Most of the The Division's post-virus Manhattan is a PvE zone, where you and your team will only battle AI enemies. While playing PvE, the only place you'll see see other players are in safehouses, where weapons and skills can't be used against one another. The Dark Zone, on the other hand, is an area where you can participate in PvE and PvP simultaneously.
The Dark Zone also has its own currency, XP, and rules for acquiring gear and battling other players. Here's how it all works.
The Dark Zone
The Dark Zone is the quarantined area marked in red on your map, and can only be accessed at certain checkpoints. To enter, you'll need to walk through the checkpoint, where you'll typically find an ammo restock box and a Dark Zone vendor. At the far side of the room, there's another big door leading to the Dark Zone.
The moment you enter the Dark Zone you're in PvP mode. You'll be able to see and talk to other players, join up with them, or fight them. In addition, the Zone is populated with AI enemies, and tough ones at that. There are also a few small saferooms in the Zone that, upon entering, will only let you see members of your own team and not other players. You'll find a restock chest and a vendor selling high-end gear.
Tip: Unlike PvE areas, you can't teleport to other players on your team and you can't fast-travel to your base or other safehouses from within the Dark Zone. All travel inside the Dark Zone happens on foot.
Dark Zone Rank and Currency
In the Dark Zone, you have a rank that is independent of your current level. As you kill enemies and other players, or complete objectives, you earn XP and your rank goes up. Your regular level from PvE doesn't change during the time spent in the Dark Zone, however: the things you do in the Zone only alter your Dark Zone rank. Your DZ rank determines what gear you can buy from DZ vendors, and which DZ crates you can open.
DZ crates contain loot and Dark Zone funds. There are small chests, similar to the ones found in PvE areas, that anyone of any rank can open and loot. There are also bigger ranked chests that contain high-level loot and can only be opened by a player who meets the rank requirements and has a DZ key. Keys can be found in loot drops or by taking them from players you've killed.
Tip: The contents of DZ crates refresh hourly, so make a mental note of the location of any big crates you find. If you're going to be in the DZ for a while, it's possible to loot the same chest repeatedly by hitting it on your way in and on the way out.
Gear you acquire in the Dark Zone can't simply be carried back to your base. Dark Zone gear is contaminated, so you'll need to call for a chopper by visiting an extraction zone. (Note: gear you buy from Dark Zone vendors doesn't need to be extracted). Enter the extraction area, where you'll see a helicopter landing circle. You'll be prompted to hold down the F key, which fires a flare. Then you've got a 90 seconds to wait for the chopper to arrive. Typically, this will be an eventful minute and a half.
Nearby players, having been notified of your extraction, may run over to your extraction zone. Mainly they'll be looking to load their own contaminated gear onto the chopper you summoned. Other players may be looking to kill you and take your gear for themselves (they can even load the gear they took from you onto the very chopper you called, which stings a bit). Additionally, AI enemies will show up at the extraction zone looking for a fight. With players and AI in close quarters, there's often an extended fight, either between the players and AI, the players and other players, or both at once.
Once the chopper arrives, you'll have thirty seconds to run to the rope that drops and attach your contaminated gear to it. Only five players can attach their gear to the rope at the same time. If there are too many players, and there often are, another chopper will need to be called for everyone to get their gear out. Gear you've safely choppered out will appear in your stash boxes at your base and in safehouses.
Tip: You can tell a player has Dark Zone gear by looking at their backs. A yellow contamination bag will be hanging under their backpack. It'll also be hanging under yours, so anyone who sees you will know whether or not you've got DZ gear on you.
When a player attacks another player, they will get a warning that if they continue to damage that player, they'll be designated a rogue agent. Rogue agents are marked with a red skull both above their heads and on the minimap, so players nearby know they're up to no good. The rogue designation comes with a countdown timer, so if you accidentally shoot someone and become rogue (hey, it happens) it won't last more than 20 seconds. However, the more you attack and kill other players, the longer the timer runs until you lose rogue status.
There's a punishment for going rogue. The more players you kill while rogue, the more DZ funds and DZ XP you lose if other players bring you down before your rogue timer expires. However, there's also a reward. If you survive until your rogue timer expires and you lose the rogue status, you earn extra Dark Zone funds.
Tip: This is a bit of a dirty one, but someone did it to me so I thought I'd pass it on. If you want to kill a player and take their gear without going rogue, shoot at someone but don't actually damage them. Fire at their feet or just over their heads or hit some objects they're close to. If they get spooked, they may open fire and damage you to the point where they'll be tagged as rogue before they realize they've been tricked. Then—hopefully—you can kill them and take their loot without actually going rogue yourself. It's definitely dicey: giving up the first hit puts you at a disadvantage. It's also probably a rotten thing to do. Forget I brought it up.
What you can lose
Fighting other players in The Dark Zone comes with risks, but it's important to understand those risks as they're not all-encompassing. First, you won’t ever lose gear you bring into the Dark Zone from the PvE portion of the game. The weapons and gear you find, buy, and craft in PvE won't be stripped from your twitching corpse the moment another player takes you down. That stuff is safe, along with the credits you've earned from PvE. Additionally, gear you purchase from a Dark Zone vendor with DZ funds is also yours and can't be taken from you.
However, everything else is up for grabs. Gear you collect from enemy drops, find in the Zone, or take from dead players can be taken from you if you're killed. Some of your DZ funds and DZ keys, the latter used to unlock chests in the Dark Zone, can also be taken from you if you're killed.
And, when you die, you lose some DZ experience points. In fact, if you die often enough your DZ rank can even be leveled down. In other words, if you're having a bad day in the Zone, you might want to take a break and pick a different battle.
Tip: Even those DZ keys you may have received by trading in your Uplay points can be stripped if you're killed. Be careful! I lost mine that way.
- Watch your flanks! Seriously. It's common in random Dark Zone street battles with AI that in addition to the crew you're fighting, another crew might wander in from a nearby area, sometimes right behind you, in a way that doesn't seem to happen in PvE areas. Keep those pulses busy to make sure you don't get surprised by new enemies joining the fight.
- Don't wait until you've hit the Level 30 cap before you start exploring the DZ. Head there between Level 10 and 14. You'll want to start building your DZ rank early. Also, a Level 30 player who has already spent a good deal of time in the Dark Zone will have much more high-level gear than one who has only just begun exploring it.
- Be selective about what loot you pick up. Don't grab everything: you only have a handful of slots for DZ gear before you have to call in an extraction. Focus on only high-level stuff you can really use. Your hazmat bag puts a target on your back, and you don't want to risk getting dropped because you filled it with stuff you don't really need.
- In PvE you're probably used to mostly ignoring vendors, preferring to craft or find new weapons and gear. Don't ignore DZ vendors! They have great stuff to spend your DZ dollars on, and you don't need to worry about extracting it or losing it.
- If you want to solo the DZ, go for it, but be prepared for anything. Bring a good sniper rifle for range and a great shotgun for when you get rushed. Make frequent retreats to pull one or two AI opponents after you rather than trying to take on an entire group alone. Stamina-boosting gear is essential to raise your hit points so a big hit won't immediately down you.
- Voice chat is localized, so any player within range will be able to hear you if you're talking to your team. Keep your mic muted when you're not talking. Please. I had to listen to most of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond last night due to a friendly player with an open mic.
- If you don't want to risk an encounter with other players, sprint like hell: you'll be hard to take down while running at full speed. If you want to convince someone you mean them no harm, I'd suggest doing jumping jacks. It sets people at ease.